ERIC Identifier: ED319651
Publication Date: 1990-02-00
Author: Prior, Warren R.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about Australia. ERIC Digest.
It is only in very recent times that Australia has penetrated the
consciousness of many American classroom teachers as a potentially worthwhile
area of study for their students. Most teachers have little or no formal
education about Australia. Recent Australian-American sporting events, films,
and tourist advertising have been widely publicized in the United States. But
mostly these have presented stereotypical images of Australia. The few school
textbooks that mention Australia tend to reinforce these stereotypes. The
explanation of this lack of interest perhaps reflects as much on Australians
themselves, who tend to be so obsessed with inventing national images that
outside observers just don't know where to begin a study about Australia. So why
should American teachers include Australia in their school program? How can
Australian studies be effectively incorporated into existing social studies
programs? This ERIC Digest examines (1) the importance of teaching about
Australia, (2) the potential areas of the curriculum in which Australia could be
included, and (3) useful strategies for teaching about Australia.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TEACH ABOUT AUSTRALIA?
studies offers many opportunities for American teachers and students to analyze
critically aspects of their own culture. There are many experiences in the
history of Australia that parallel the American experience. These can include,
for example, the conquering of frontiers, the nature of the relationship between
indigenous peoples (Aborigines and Amerindians) and the "new" settlers, the
search for an appropriate federal system of government, the relationship between
labor and capital, and issues relating to being a multicultural society.
Australia and the United States have strong ongoing economic, social, and
political ties. The extent of trade between the two countries continues to grow
while there are at the same time areas of intense trade competition. The impact
of the U.S. on aspects of Australian culture via agencies such as fast food
chains, film distributors, and clothing manufacturers is extensive. Australia
has strong political ties with the U.S. through such treaties as ANZUS and the
Antarctic Treaty. These are all areas worthy of investigation in social studies
A study of Australia reveals interesting interactions between an extremely
old geological landscape and the evolution of its unique fauna and flora. The
use and abuse of Australia's unique landscape by Aborigines and more recent
white settlers forms the context for discussions about protection of the
environment. Human interactions with the environment in Australia can be
compared with those in North America.
The Aboriginal people in Australia have possibly the oldest indigenous
culture still operating, a unique way of life dating back more than 40,000
years. Australian studies should include insights about these resourceful
people. The documentation of these Aboriginal societies, made more difficult
since Aborigines have no written code of language, has revealed in recent years
the great age, complexity, and diversity of Aboriginal societies. A study of
Aboriginal art, both old and recent, is a study of the whole cultural approach.
Aboriginal art is unlike any other and is now in great demand throughout the art
WHERE DOES AUSTRALIAN STUDIES BELONG IN THE
Teaching about Australia can profitably be included in the
curriculum from kindergarten to twelfth grade as part of a global perspective in
social studies education. For example, young children can gain great enjoyment
from an investigation of Australian animals. They can also be enlightened by a
study of traditional Aboriginal legends.
At the upper-elementary levels, children can investigate Australia's unique
flora and fauna; assess the potential of Australia as a place for a holiday; and
collect Australian stamps and coins, perhaps as part of a regional study.
At the high school level, history and social science courses offer many
opportunities for the study of Australia. For example, in U.S. history courses
teachers may make comparisons with the Australian colonial experiences, the gold
rushes, measures aimed at restricting immigration, defense alliances, and the
framing of both Constitutions. Comparisons can enhance comprehension of common
human needs and experiences, and can also help students to understand the
conceptual bases of these experiences in their own local context. In world
history courses worthwhile comparative examples can include the investigations
of trans-Pacific culture flows in film, literature, and popular music, or
discussions of issues of assimilation or integration in multicultural societies,
or examination of comparative issues in federal-state relations. An inquiry
focus on these issues can heighten students' awareness of the universal nature
and significance of these concepts.
Teachers need not be restricted to the very limited space allocated to
Australia in American social studies textbooks. There is, however, a real need
for more detailed resources appropriate for all grade levels. Teachers and
students should contact Australian embassies and consulates in the U.S. or write
to exchange information with subject associations, teachers, and students in
Australia. There are some excellent curriculum resources available in Australia.
WHAT STRATEGIES MIGHT BE USED IN CLASSROOMS TO TEACH ABOUT AUSTRALIA?
Australia may be as large geographically as the United States,
but its relatively minor political and economic role in the world often results
in students having only minimal understandings about Australia and Australians.
At its worst, this is manifested in gross generalizations and in stereotyping.
The media perpetuate these simplified views of Australia. So what can teachers
do in social studies classes to teach about Australia? Given the present lack of
accurate understandings, what teaching strategies might be the most effective?
Begin with basic geography lessons to locate Australia on a world map, noting
its size, major geographic features, climatic zones, demographic distribution,
location of major cities, and state borders. Teachers might then prepare a
classroom activity in which students plan a holiday to Australia, including
itinerary, costs, travel documentation, things to take, and things to buy.
Travel agents and airline companies are good resources for this activity.
Students need an accurate database of information about Australia and basic
location skills before they can engage in any comparison, analysis, and
evaluation with their own country.
Use a historical perspective to enhance understanding of different cultures
in Australia. Recent archaeological findings confirming the existence of
Aborigines in Australia more than 40,000 years ago need to be related to the
history of European settlement in Australia during the past 200 years. The
growing appreciation of the diversity, complexity, and richness of traditional
Aboriginal culture is worthy of a study in its own right. The impact of white
settlement on Aboriginal culture can form the basis for useful comparisons with
the impact of white settlement in North America on Amerindian cultures.
A historical perspective provides a backdrop for present-day analysis of
issues arising out of the nature of the early contacts, including land rights
and policy changes in the area of social justice. A broad historical study of
white settlement in Australia is necessary for an understanding of major
institutions such as the Federal and State Parliamentary system, and of patterns
of culture such as the search for an Australian identity. By examining such
concepts as national identity, be it Australian or American, students can
develop an emphatic appreciation of cultural differences and similarities. An
essential approach in social studies classrooms is to take a global perspective
in the search for understandings of universal concepts.
The use of a range of Australian literature, art, films, and visual and oral
primary source materials can be a useful entry into an understanding of the
values and assumptions underlying Australian culture. What does a recent popular
film like CROCODILE DUNDEE tell us about Australia and Australians? How do the
values, both implicit and explicit, in this film compare with the writings of
the Australian author Patrick White or the black poet Kathryn Pritchard? To what
extent and in what ways does American culture impinge on Australian culture? The
opportunity for students to clarify their own values and the values and
assumptions underlying the actions of their nation is a central objective in the
teaching of social studies. A comparative teaching strategy, particularly with a
country like Australia which shares values and common cultural beginnings, can
help American students to note the similarities and differences and to be more
precise in defining and articulating their own values.
A study of issues facing Australia today can enhance students' inquiry
skills, and enable them to form generalizations that might be useful in
explaining issues facing Americans. Case studies of immigrants in a
multicultural society in Australia could be used to develop skills in different
forms of data gathering. The issue of participating in the America's Cup sailing
competition could be used to develop skills in detecting bias in media
reporting. The issue of joint Australian/American hi-tech satellite tracking
technology could be an appropriate content area for senior students to develop
skills in role playing and debating.
Most of these teaching strategies do not depend upon the availability of a
vast library about Australia. They do, however, require teachers and students to
talk regularly to Australian visitors to America, to collect articles, to record
documentaries, and to utilize the numerous resources that are already available
in the community. The strategies are pragmatic and are consistent with the
objectives of teaching social studies at all grade levels. The particular focus
is on accurate understandings, on the development of social studies skills, and
on an appreciation of cultures different from our own.
History of Australia - Offers a good overview of the history of Australia.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are in the ERIC system and are available in microfiche and paper
copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about
prices, contact EDRS, 3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22304; telephone
numbers are 703-823-0500 and 800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are
annotated monthly in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION), which is
available in most libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS;
however, they can be located in the journal section of most libraries by using
the bibliographic information provided below.
Blainey, Geoffrey. THE TYRANNY OF DISTANCE. rev. ed. Melbourne: Macmillan,
Bowering, M., L. Kerr, and L. Soper. LAND OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS. Sydney:
McGraw Hill, 1988.
Clark, Manning. A SHORT HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA. 3rd rev. ed. Mentor: New York,
Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. SOCIAL STUDIES FOR ACADEMICALLY
TALENTED STUDENTS: GRADES 6-8, MIDDLE SCHOOL. INSTRUCTIONAL GUIDE. 1988. ED 302
Fabian, S., and M. Loh. CHILDREN IN AUSTRALIA. rev. ed. Melbourne: Oxford
University Press, 1989.
Happel, Sue. AUSTRALIA. Cedar Falls: Area Education Agency 7, 1980. ED 239
Harper, Norman. A GREAT AND POWERFUL FRIEND. Australia: University of
Queensland Press, 1975.
Maccoll, Peter. THE ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN IN NORTHERN-EASTERN ARNHEM LAND.
1982. ED 225 796.
Moloney, J. THE PENGUIN HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA. Melbourne: Penguin, 1988.
Osborne, G., and W.F. Mandle. NEW HISTORY: STUDYING AUSTRALIA TODAY. Sydney:
Allen and Unwin, 1982.
Singleton, Laurel R. "Challenge Learning, Australia and Elementary Students."
SOCIAL EDUCATION 48 (September/October 1984): 452-53. EJ 304 797.
Snelson, Leo. "Teaching for Justice: Aboriginal Studies in Geography."
GEOGRAPHICAL EDUCATION 5, no. 4 (1988): 36-38. EJ 389 837.
Texas Education Agency. HANDBOOK ON AUSTRALIA. Austin, 1984. ED 243 763.
Tomlinson, Carl M. "Studying Australia--Beyond the Textbook Approach." SOCIAL
STUDIES 79 (January/February 1988): 32-36. EJ 366 826.
Watson, Don. THE STORY OF AUSTRALIA. Australia: Thomas Nelson, 1984.
White, Richard. INVENTING AUSTRALIA. No. 3 of THE AUSTRALIAN EXPERIENCE
SERIES. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1981.